Petakopadesa (Pitaka disclosure)

So i heard Nanamoli translated it in english. When aproximately translation will be posted on website?

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Yes, there is a translation by Nyanamoli. However, it has not been released by the PTS so we cannot publish it.

For the record, here is the full list of English translations that have been released under Creative Commons licence. The only ones of these that have not yet been digitized are the Patthana and the Puggalapannatti.

10 May 2013

Following the generous donation of a long-standing member of the Society, the Pali Text Society is pleased to announce that the following works, whose copyright is owned by the Pali Text Society, are now issued under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 licence (CC BY-NC 3.0)

The Pali Text Society retains all commercial rights, but permission is granted to reproduce, reformat, transmit and distribute these works for non-commercial use without further need to contact the Society.

  • Pali-English Dictionary, T.W. Rhys Davids and William Stede
  • The Book of the Discipline (6 vols), tr. I.B. Horner
  • Middle Length Sayings (3 vols), tr. I.B. Horner
  • Kindred Sayings (5 vols), tr. Mrs C.A.F. Rhys Davids and F.L. Woodward
  • Gradual Sayings (5 vols), tr. F.L. Woodward and E.M. Hare
  • Buddhist Manual of Psychological Ethics, tr. Mrs C.A.F. Rhys Davids
  • The Book of Analysis, tr. Ven. U Thittila
  • Discourse on Elements, tr. Ven. U Narada
  • Designation of Human Types, tr. B.C. Law
  • Points of Controversy, tr. S.Z. Aung and Mrs C.A.F. Rhys Davids
  • Conditional Relations (2 vols), tr. Ven. U Narada

Can we do anything to change that? i.e. should we start a petition to formalize a request for PTS to make it free for all?

I am quite sure this would be aligned with the translators’ intention!

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You suggest we start a petition. I would be fully supportive of anything like this, but it should have a broader remit.

For 2,500 years the Sangha has been the traditional custodian of the Buddhist texts. We have compiled them, memorized them, copied them, stored them, and ensured that they lasted until our time. We did so as a sacred duty, just as I am doing my translations as a sacred duty today. Nobody claimed to own the Dhamma, nobody tried to restrict the availability of the texts, and nobody treated people like criminals for copying texts and making them available.

When the modern era arrived, despite the many horrors visited on Buddhist countries by the west, we supported the establishment of the Pali Text Society and western Buddhist studies generally. We taught Pali to the scholars, sourced and donated manuscripts, and raised funds to set up their societies and publish their books. And of course, many monastics, like Ven Nyanamoli, gave much of their time to learn Pali and make translations. None of this was done for any material goal, nor was it done for fame or ownership of intellectual property. It was done to support the spread of the Dhamma, that it might last a long time and be of benefit for the people of the world.

Perhaps we were naive. Western culture has a way of appropriating the culture, the stories, the images, the songs, the dreaming of other peoples, and using it to make money. We never realized that this is what was happening. Without anyone really noticing, the Dhamma became the property of corporations, societies, and individuals who used to it generate money and prestige for themselves. The Dhamma no longer belongs to humanity.

I would love nothing better than to see this change once and for all. The world is full of greed, hate, and delusion, and needs the Dhamma more than ever. I think we, as a Buddhist community, should take back our sacred scriptures. We should establish as a global norm that the Sangha is the traditional custodian of Buddhist scriptures, and that all expressions of those scriptures, whether as original texts, translations, or adaptations, belong to the public domain in accordance with the Buddha’s teachings and 2,500 years of Sangha tradition.


While you are certainly right about the unacceptability of charging money for the access to the Dhamma, I think a compromise can reached with the help of the Internet as time passes. I paid 50 Euros to buy the recent German translation of the Majjhima Nikaya by Ven. Mettiko and am pretty sure the quality of the book and its production costs justify the price. At the same time, all of these discourses are available online under and I frequently go to this site when the book is not around. I think it will be just fair to make the translation itself free of charge and free for subsequent non-commercial distribution while still optionally charging money for the books themselves, especially if the production quality is as high as that of Ven. Bodhi’s translations.

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This is certainly a difficult problem. Until recently, if Wisdom, PTS, and others did not have an income stream from selling books we probably would not have had access to such excellent translations. This may well be changing, but for many of us, buying a translation of the MN for 50 Euro is much more convenient than reading various translations on line, and is a small part of the time, effort, and money we put towards our study /practice.

I am sometimes frustrated that I can’t just buy printed copies of certain Dhamma books, because they have been designated “free distribution”. That’s fine if you frequent monasteries such as Amaravati, but not for those of us in far-flung areas of the world…

I like the model that BPS adopted with the Visuddhimagga, with a free PDF, but a for-sale book, , and I hope that the other Dhamma publishers, might be able to adopt that model in the future.


There are places where you can get free publication books sent to you. For instance, the box-set with the collected teachings of Ajahn Chah is here:

And if you search around on they have lots more for free (you just have to pay for shipping).

You can find all Amaravati publications in epub here: in Taiwan also do this so you can look through their catelogue.

At we have started distributing a few books by post from Ajahn Brahm and Ajahn Brahmali, but unfortunately we have run out of the English version. But there are some links to where you can download ebooks for free.


Not entirely. The discourses on are an older version by Kay Zumwinkel. Here on SuttaCentral we have Ajahn Mettiko’s latest version. :slight_smile:


That’s even better, thanks for the great news! :anjal:

I agree! Obviously printing has had a role to play. While I have strong views (you may have noticed!) about the situation today, the 20th century was a different time. I don’t so much have a problem with choices done then, but with how things have adapted (or not) in the present.

As hinted at in your last sentence, there’s really no relation between copyright and selling material. Think about water. There’s no copyright on water, and it’s available everywhere, but people still spend millions to buy the bottled stuff. Why? Well, a variety of reasons, be it real or perceived quality, convenience, and so on.

Making texts available free of copyright does not mean you can’t sell them. In fact, the most relevant studies I have seen show little or no relation between availability online and book sales (the stronger correlation is with citation: making texts available freely means they are more widely read and have more influence). And this is, presumably, for exactly the reasons you mention.

If you remove copyright, it simply means that if someone copies the text, you can’t take them to court. That’s it. You can still ask people to not copy them, or to restrict copying in certain forms or whatever. But it is a polite request, not a legal requirement. How is it enforced? By the power of public opinion. Anyone who starts using texts in unethical ways—say by misattributing sources for financial gain—will be soon outed by the community.

Our plans here are evolving, but we are currently having certain books printed for free distribution with Budaedu in Taiwan. These will become available worldwide, and as time goes on there will be more and more of them. They produce excellent quality books, and our texts will be cloth bound Smyth-sewn hardcover, i.e. as good as it gets for normal book production.

In addition, we have a longer term plan to produce books ourselves. These will use even higher quality production, which will be second to none anywhere in the book industry. Most likely we’ll cover production costs by donation, and make the books available at cost of postage only on the internet. This is especially for those in “far-flung regions”!


OK, so why not just do that and see where we end up. What we then need is a better idea about what the petition is about:

  1. Who will the petition be given to? There are many companies that hold some copyright over translations of Buddhist texts …
  2. Some text about what we want them to actually do (i.e. change copyright to some kind of CC?)
  3. Some text about why this is important (@Sujato is good at writing that)
  4. A picture (optional, but probably good to have. Can somebody photoshop something with a Majjhima Nikaya behind bars or so?)

:smiley: :smiley: :smiley:

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Because it won’t work. Like, in principle it should absolutely happen, but it’s not going to. Why?

  1. Who cares? Have you met Buddhists?
  2. The interested parties don’t perceive that they gain anything.
  3. The driving force should be the Sangha, as we are the traditional custodians of the texts. But the Sangha has no functional structure to achieve anything like this, and hardly anyone knows or cares about the issues. See point number 1.
  4. The real point is not that specific people should “release” specific texts under specific licences. To do this is still to accept that they have a legal right to own the Dhamma. What’s needed is an international legal principle to treat ancient Buddhist texts and all derivative works as belonging to the public domain. Now, there is an emerging precedent to this in legal frameworks to protect indigenous peoples from having their culture appropriated and exploited. But it’s a long, hard journey: and who will undertake it? See point number 1.
  5. Not only do interested parties not see any gain in it, they see the reverse. Consider the Tibetan situation. Through commercial publishers they gain funds and prestige to support their monasteries. Who’s going to just give that away? Heck, they even charge money to attend Dhamma talks. Any serious attempt would have to be on the basis of all Buddhist traditions and all Buddhist scriptures, and well, not gonna happen.
  6. Bibles. Translations of these are also subject to copyright, and unlike in the Buddhist world, there is serious money involved. Owners of particular Bible translations jealously guard their copyright, which is why there is a movement to create quality open source editions. (As in Buddhism, freely available Bible translations tend to be older and less reliable.) While the situation is not entirely comparable—there’s no exact analogue of the role of the Sangha as traditional custodian—it’s close enough that Bible publishers would, I am confident, aggressively resist any notion that translations of sacred scriptures belong to humanity.

It’s because of considerations like these that I undertook my translation project. I can’t do everything, but by creating freely available, high quality translations in the public domain, at least the most important texts are covered. This is the reality: it will be much, much easier and quicker to translate all the Pali suttas than to make any headway on this.

Let me tell you just one of my many inspiring encounters with traditional publishers.

In 1973, a scholar named Ria Kloppenborg, who seems to have been a lovely person, published a translation of the Catusparisat Sutra, under the title The Sütra on the Foundation of the Buddhist Order. Now, this was published through Brill, a major European academic publisher. The book is highly obscure, which is not helped by the fact that it’s only registered on Google books in German. It has been out of print for decades, and there is basically zero chance of it ever being reprinted.

So I checked the Brill website and emailed the address they gave there.

I am writing to request permission to host the text of “The sūtra on the foundation of the Buddhist order (Catuṣpariṣatsūtra)”, by Ria Kloopenborg, ISBN 9004036113, published in the Nisaba series by BRILL in 1973.

I would like to publish the translation that constitutes the bulk of the work, without introduction, notes, and the like, on an open access website called

May I explain my justification for asking?

This book is an old publication of BRILL, and I am sure it has little or no commercial value. As far as I can tell from your website it is not currently in print.

However it has great spiritual value for the Buddhist community. It is an ancient religious text, one that tells a story known to all Buddhists, but who have virtually no knowledge of this specific text. This translation is one of the very few substantive translations from the early Sanskrit texts of Buddhism into a modern language.

On SuttaCentral we are gathering all material, both original texts and translations, from the earliest period. Most of this material is scattered in obscure publications, like this one, and rarely connects with the people who would be most interested in it. We are collecting previously published material, and we aim to generate more translations in the future. These scriptures have been passed down by the Buddhist community for 2500 years, and it is a great shame that today they can hardly gain access to them.

Our site is of course completely non-commercial and is entirely for the sake of promoting understanding and appreciation of this great ancient literature, of which the Catusparisat Sutra is an important part.

If permission is granted by BRILL, we will have the text typed, carefully proofed, and marked up with xml. We are currently doing this with some books that have been released under a Creative Commons licence by the Pali Text Society.

Looking forward to your positive response,

Bhante Sujato

No response. So I emailed again. Still no response. So I sent this:

This is my third email to you regarding the rights to republish online the translation from “The sūtra on the foundation of the Buddhist order (Catuṣpariṣatsūtra)”, by Ria Kloppenborg, ISBN 9004036113, published in the Nisaba series by BRILL in 1973.

My first email was sent on June 12, and since then I have received nothing, not even a polite response.

May I remind you that the text concerned is an ancient Buddhist sacred scripture. It was compiled and handed down for 2500 years by the Buddhist community before being published by BRILL. According to the Buddhist tradition, by whom this text was created and maintained, there is no such thing as copyright or ownership of what we call the Dhamma, the teachings of the Buddha. All teachings have always been available for all, for free, without hindrance or exception. Whether such texts are in translation is irrelevant, as from the Buddhist perspective, it is the meaning, not the letter, that is important.

However, according to modern copyright law as interpreted by some, the publisher has a legal right to this material, in accordance with whatever licence was arranged with the translator. Unfortunately the translator has passed away so I cannot approach her directly. However, I have little doubt that, were she still alive, she would like this to be kept alive and meaningful within the Buddhist community, as it has been for the past 2500 years. The laws of copyright, as often understood, take away our sacred texts and place them under the control of corporations; corporations who, it would seem, are unable to even answer a polite email.

It is also part of the Buddhist tradition that when a question is put, sometimes the respondent remains silent. If the question is repeated three times, it is understood that the respondent has consented by that silence. Therefore, if you remain silent once again, I will understand this to mean that you have given consent, and that BRILL waives any rights over this material. I will proceed to have the translation digitized and published on the web for free, under a CC0 licence.

Then I got a response.

Unfortunately we do not allow our publications to be posted on open access repositories.

To which I replied:

May I enquire further about Brill’s policies?

  1. On what legal precedent does Brill believe that it can claim to own an ancient sacred text that was created by the Buddhist community?
  2. In making this assertion, were the religious beliefs and sensibilities of the Buddhist community considered?
  3. If Brill’s claim to ownership can be sustained, what is the procedure whereby we may apply to purchase the rights from Brill?

Looking forward to your swift and helpful reply,

Okay, so that last bit was sarcastic. I confess! This was the reply:

Thank you for your response. Of course we cannot claim ownership to any ancient text, whether Buddhist or from any other ancient culture. However, we do claim ownership to the scholarly work that was done on ancient texts. That is how we are able to run our publishing company and duistribute such scholarly work.

Should you wish to purchase translation or reprint rights, we have a fixed proceudre, which can be found on our website under “rights and permissions”. However, we generally do not give permission to distribute texts in open access.

So I replied:

Thanks for the response and the clarification.

I have applied at the web form as you suggested, however, the form says to apply to, which is where I started up at.

To be clear, all I have got so far is a referral back to the web page I started at, which is what had referred me to this email. Regarding the spiritual and cultural status of the text, all I was told was this:

As Buddhism is one of the world religions, I don’t think there is such a thing as “the” Buddhist community that would have the right to claim the texts. The same goes for the Bible and the Koran, of course.

So here, in the house of one of the great academic publishers, someone with no knowledge or understanding of Buddhism—or Buddhist traditions or communities or scriptures or Sangha—says: “I don’t think there is such a thing …”. This is the entire extent of their justification.

Anyway, so I then continued to make my case, only to be referred to someone else in Brill. They completely misunderstood the situation and I had to explain it all again. When they realized I wanted permission to publish one of their translations, they asked me if I had written permission from the translator. So I had to inform them that she, one of their own authors, had died several years previously. Then they consulted some more, and finally I got this:

I have discussed your proposal internally and Brill is willing to license the English translation in return for an outright purchase. As the English translation will be available in an Open Access site, the charge would be 2000 (two thousand) Euro.

So this is what it comes to at long last (six weeks after my initial email). Remember, this has all been handled by lawyers at Brill, who must have spent hundreds of dollars at this stage just in replying to emails and time spent. Why? It’s worth nothing to them. And we’re expected to pay 2000 euro for a single text, for which we have to do the digitizing, proofreading, and markup ourselves? I mean, we have over 60,000 texts on SuttaCentral!

At this point I realized it was a lost cause, so I finally replied:

After consideration, I have decided not to go ahead with purchasing a licence. The cost is excessive, especially considering we will then have to bear the burden of digitizing and proofreading the text. In the end, I simply decided to make a fresh translation of the text myself. That way we can have a truly public domain edition for everyone.

It only took a few days to do a new (and improved!) translation of the Sanskrit text. So the outcome for Brill is that they lost the chance to have one of their dead texts digitized and brought to life, and they lost the chance to get any licence fees because of their greed. And their product has lost what little value it might once have had through its uniqueness.

But for the rest of us, we can read the new translation here. :slight_smile:


I am not that familiar with the history of the PTS. but spent some time on their website. They have such a significant catalogue of translations and Pali editions, for example, that they sell at a fairly premium price. I noted the following as part of the catalogue:

The Guide,
tr. Ven. Ñāṇamoli, 1962, 1977
ISBN 024 X £26.60 « Add to Basket »
Treatise setting out methods for interpreting and explaining canonical texts, similar in content to the Peṭakopadesa and used by Buddhaghosa and other commentators. (Possibly 1st century B.C.E.
Translation of Nettipakaraṇa.

The question becomes whether Ven. Nanamoli signed over his rights to the translation t the PTS, or whether PTS appropriated his translation and copyrighted it without his permission, or the permission of his surviving family. If so, then the PTS’ claim of copyright on his and other similar works could be defeated. Translations are derivative works under copyright law ( ie in the US), and if a publication is in the public domain, ( such as the Dhamma), a translator may secure a copyright, even though they did not create the work. However, the copyright belongs to the translator unless he assigns that copyright to another ( such as a publisher).

I’d be interested to see how many of these protected works the PTS can prove they have an assignment of rights for. I’m not trying to make an enemy of the PTS, but it may be true that they are claiming rights over translations for which they have no assignment of that right. In other words, if they have no provable assignment from Ven. Nanamoli, they cannot control his translation for profit.

Free legal advice is worth every penny you pay for it. :slight_smile:


I think you’re quite right. In fact we went through a similar process not long ago. Without getting too specific, a western translator in Sri Lanka had died, and a certain unpublished translation was found in their effects. Somehow this ended up being held by another monk, who passed it on to the PTS. It was unclear exactly where the rights lay, so we contacted the people who had likely dealt with the estate in Sri Lanka. As we suspected, the rights situation was entirely obscure and rested on hazy recollection rather than any clear legal agreements.

To be clear, in this situation the PTS (who have not published the work) had no objection to us publishing it.

Regarding the texts that the PTS have already dedicated to the public domain, this was facilitated by a donation offered to them from an unknown source. Perhaps one approach would be to offer to make a donation to them in exchange for the release of the text, on the understanding that the donation would help support the ongoing work of the PTS. I have no idea how much this would be, however.


I would imagine that the size of the donation will be related to the expectation of future profits on the work, as well as the leverage that the entity making the request ( such as SC) has. It may be true that an exercise in requiring PTS to prove that they have the rights they claim to have might be the leverage that would drive the “donation” cost from extreme to reasonable ( or nominal, esp. if they can’t defend their copyright). The cost to PTS could be reasonable, insofar as granting access to SC would not necessarily impact the saleability of the text, and as you point out, Bhante, with more access comes more interest, and thus potentially more retail sales.

(Sorry for the 2nd time you had to clean up my post with quoted material identified…). I owe you an editing fee :slight_smile:

Whenever I think about these things, all I can see are the incredible possibilities for innovation and progress. We live in a whole new world, and why can’t we act like it?

Someone like the PTS, for example: why should they have to rely on commercial publishing at all? It’s absurd.

How about this: one of the many Buddhist organizations that has buckets of dollars could offer to sponsor them, on the condition that their texts are all dedicated to the public domain. There are Thai temples that are sitting on literally billions of dollars that do nothing. They wouldn’t even notice, say a million a year, but it would revolutionize international Buddhist scholarship.

Or it could be done as a 50/50 deal with the UK government, and the Buddhist community chipping in its part—as it did when the PTS was founded.

There are many options, but someone has to do the work.

True; the problem here is that, incredible as it may seem, copyright arguments are not actually driven by data. Basically there is little or no evidence that copying of material affects sales or income. Most of the change in sales of things like music can be attributed to gaming: people have limited spare cash to spend on entertainment, and they’re spending more of it on games. The opposition to copying is, rather, an ideological position based on a sense of ownership.

Don’t worry, it’s not just you! I love good typography, what can I say?


That sounds fairly bitter.

But as you well know, our recent communications with PTS with regards to the Dhammasaṅgaṇī by Ven. Ñāṇapoṇika showed:

  1. They are fairly open to discuss things, esp. with regards to works that are not in print.
  2. They don’t always have a clue about the copyright they think they own (I.e. although they believe they own the copyright to the above mentioned work, we have discovered it lies with BPS instead), nor about how copyright works. So they need to be made aware of this.

After Brexit? Forget it!

But I like your suggestion of sponsorship by a Buddhist Organisation. How about the London Buddhist Society?

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This is a terrific idea. I wonder if a consortium of the Thai Government and Thai Sangha, along with, say, some Thai business chambers of commerce, would collaborate with the PTS to allow for the freeing up of these texts? It might be worth approaching the PTS to see what kind of arrangement they might be willing to listen to, and at the same time, work on Thai ( for example) and/or AUS or US Buddhist organizations to raise leverage and funds to free up these texts and provide a support foundation for PTS. ( Rereading your earlier text, you made this argument…sorry for the redundancy)

I’d start with negotiating with PTS, and then go into the market and see what could be raised in terms of leverage and funds. There might be a middle ground that is found [quote=“sujato, post:17, topic:3066”]
We live in a whole new world, and why can’t we act like it?
[/quote] that could, in a few years, allow for the release of a number of texts.

But only fairly.

Sure, our experiences with the PTS are much better than with Brill. On the other hand, my experience with Brill is far from unique, nor is it the worst case.

Indeed, this too is common among publishers.

Rhys Davids was complaining a century ago that England, despite the fact that it was actually governing the place, committed far fewer resources to Indology than Germany. Things have not improved.

See above re: no-one cares. I mean, if you go there and try to talk to someone, what do you expect? “Sure, let me give you millions of dollars! Please, take even more of my money!”

It could work, but it would take someone with vision who wanted to dedicate a long time to travelling around, working with different organizations, building trust, finding people in different countries, negotiating, making a case, and creating new allegiances. So sure, you could do that, and maybe after many years it will work.

Or, you know, just do a new translation …

Bear in mind, the texts that we’re talking about, apart from the ones I’m working on now, are largely highly obscure texts that almost no-one reads. The translations by Nyanamoli will be in public domian in 14 years. And, psst, you can find most of them in pdfs by using a well known search engine. Not that I would ever endorse such a thing! No, ma’am!

So, what exactly do we gain?